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Posted by: on 19/03/2020
I received an instruction from a client to visit a property in Sunderland, Tyne & Wear to carry out a detailed survey and prepare a report which the client intended to use in the legal action against a damp proofing contractor and or a Property lettings management company. My client is based in the south of England and he owns and rents out a Property in Sunderland with the monthly management being carried out by a lettings agent based in Peterlee, County Durham.
Approximately two years ago, the tenants complained of ongoing damp issues within the property and they lodged their complaint with the management agency with a request that the damp issues be investigated, and any necessary remedial work is carried out to eliminate the ongoing damp issues.
The lettings agent instructed ‘their damp proofing company’ to carry out a survey and submit a report and estimate detailing the necessary remedial work. The subsequent report and estimate were then forwarded on to my client with a request that permission was granted to instruct the damp proofing contractor to proceed with the work. The cost of the work totalled £5000 exclusive of VAT.
After due consideration, my client instructed the letting agents to instruct the damp proofing company to proceed with the remedial work specified in the report. My client paid the letting agent the value of the work i.e. £5,000 + VAT which they were to forward on to the damp proofing contractor upon completion of the work.
The damp proofing contractor commenced work on-site and initially, they removed all the necessary wall plaster in the locations 'allegedly' affected by rising damp upon which they submitted an invoice for £2500 which had to be paid before they proceeded with the remainder of the work. Upon receiving the £2,500 from the letting agent, the contractor then left the site, never to return. The photographs show the condition of the property as it was left by the contractors.
My client commenced legal proceedings against the property rentals company to recoup the money which had been paid for the damp proofing work. The legal process has been ongoing for approximately 18 months and I was contacted after the judge directed both the claimant and the defendant to instruct a ‘Single Joint Expert’.
I was due to visit the site and three days before my visit, I was informed by my client that the lettings agency have taken steps to wind up the company and have employed insolvency practitioners, which now means that my client is extremely unlikely to recoup any of the monies paid to the letting agent.
The purpose of this article is to raise awareness as to the risks associated with relying on your letting agent or estate agent employing ‘their damp-proofing company’. It is all too common for the damp proofing company and the agent to have a mutually beneficial relationship which ultimately does not serve the best interests of the client i.e. the homeowner/purchaser or landlord.
My client was assured that this damp proofing company were experts in their field. So just how competent were they?
Following on from their initial survey 'their damp proofing contractor' reported that the property was suffering from rising damp at the base of all internal structural walls and required the installation of a new chemical damp proof course as well as specialist replastering in the areas in which the damp-proof course would be installed.
Upon my arrival on site, I quickly identified that the property already benefited from a physical damp-proof course which was installed at the time of the original construction. In the locations that I was able to physically inspect the damp proof course, it was found to be in good order with no significant evidence of breakdown. (See photos)
Since the property already benefited from a physical damp proof course, on what evidence did ‘their damp-proofing company’ base their findings and recommendations that new damp proof course was required?
In the location in which the cinder/clinker block and black ash mortar have been used to construct a wall the moisture meter recorded high readings the full height of the wall.
A ‘cinder/clinker block’ is a somewhat antiquated and the generic term for a type of structural block that can easily be made from many different things. Back when people burned coal to heat their homes a great deal of “cinders” were produced– a generic term for the ash that has been left behind when coal or similar fuels are burned. As with wood stove ash today, a typical winter would leave a homeowner with large volumes of cinders; and coal-fired power plants and steel mills would create tons of this waste every day. So, it was used to make ‘cinder/clinker blocks’ and was often added to the mortars to bulk out the mortar.
The significance of this is that some types of black ash mortar and clinker blocks can produce a significant response on an electrical moisture meter depending on the carbon content of the material. Whilst this may not be common it is certainly something that I have come across on several occasions during my time as a surveyor and in this particular property, I was able to obtain elevated moisture meter readings throughout the property from floor to ceiling. The letting agents ‘Damp Expert’ obviously recorded the same pattern of readings with his electronic moisture meter as I did and automatically assumed that the elevated meter readings were due to rising damp, which resulted in the quotation for the damp proofing work.
So, did the property suffer from rising damp and was the significant invasive remedial work justified?
In my honest opinion-No.
It is yet another case of a damp proofing contractor having all the gear and no idea. To diagnose rising damp, and then recommend significant invasive (not to mention expensive remedial work) based on the readings indicated on the electronic moisture meter alone is dishonest. There are many other factors which must be considered and must be assessed before diagnosing rising damp. The standard phrase used by many ‘damp experts’ is ‘high moisture meter readings would suggest that the wall is affected by rising damp’ followed by the submission of a quotation for the necessary damp proofing treatment. A damp meter tells you nothing other than that there is some sort of conductive material within the wall structure-Fact.
Anyone who has ever attended one of my training courses will be familiar with the phrase that I often use and that is ‘if the moisture meter suggests rising damp, do you really want to spend thousands of pounds carrying out remedial work based on a suggestion?’ My wife suggested that I watched ‘East Enders’ for many years but, it was never going to happen’.
If you are told that you have rising damp the surveyor has a duty to inform you why? It must be due to the lack of a damp proof course, the breakdown of the damp proof course, or a bridged damp proof course. Which one is it?
If your letting agent or estate agent recommends that you use ‘their damp proofing contractor’, my advice would be for you to be very wary. The mutually beneficial relationship between the contractor and the agent may well not benefit the most important person and that is YOU.